Me, Nettle insisted. She’d followed my thoughts unerringly. That task would have fallen on me. Well, I wouldn’t do it, nor allow anyone else to do it for you. I would have come to Withywoods, closed the estate, and taken Bee with me. I’d leave you drooling in a corner. Don’t ever think you can do that to my sister and me!
I wouldn’t, Nettle. I wouldn’t! I was just … My thought faltered away from me.
Standing on a box with a noose around your neck? Whetting a blade on your throat? Brewing up a nice thick cup of carryme tea?
I don’t want to kill myself, Nettle. I don’t. I haven’t even thought about it. I just sometimes get so lonely … Sometimes, I just need it to stop hurting.
Well, it doesn’t. Her reply was savagely angry. It doesn’t stop hurting. So live with it, because you are not the only one feeling that pain. And the last thing that Bee needs is to have it doubled.
I wouldn’t do that! I was starting to be angry at her. How could she think that of me?
It’s a bad example to set for the apprentices. And it’s not as if you are the only one who has ever been tempted to escape by that route.
That stunned me. Cold rippled down my spine. You?
She did something. I wasn’t sure what, but suddenly I was slammed back into my own body. I was sitting in my chair in front of a dying fire. I sat up with a start, and then leaned back, my head spinning and my heart pounding, just as if she had flung me to the ground. I had the grace to be ashamed of myself. She was right. I had been teetering on the edge, looking over, daring myself to take the plunge. If I had weakened for one moment, it would have been irrevocable. And Bee would have taken the brunt of it.
I shut my eyes and lowered my face into my hands.
And another thing!
Sweet Eda, she had grown powerful. Nettle barged into my mind as strongly as if she slammed the door open and stood before my chair. She gave me no time to respond.
You need to pay more attention to Bee. Riddle says she is much alone, running about with little supervision, no chores or expectations, and that she looks neglected. Her clothing, her hair … He says that you seem to pay attention to her mind, but the rest of her is … Well. She can’t be allowed to run about like a stray cat. You need to take her in hand. Would you have her grow up both useless and ignorant? Unkempt and untaught? She need to be occupied, both her mind and her hands! He says that we have badly misjudged how intelligent she is, and that as a result she has not been educated as she should have been, from the time she was small. Bee is jealous of Shun and the attention she demands. Don’t give her cause for that. You’ve only the one child there, Fitz. Pay attention to her.
I will, I promised, but she was gone. And I was left sitting in my chair, my head aching from the Skill as it had not in many a year. My uncle Verity had once said of my father that being Skilled by him was like being trampled by a horse. He was strong with it; he charged into his brother’s mind, dumped his information, and left. I now thought I understood what he had meant. My candles had burned down to stubs before I felt completely like myself. Nettle had planted a foreign thought in my mind. Bee was jealous? I spent that time pondering why on earth Bee would feel jealous of Shun. When I thought I had the answer, I resolved to call in Revel early the next day and remedy all.
Safely arrived at Withywoods with my charge. This Lady Shun is perhaps the most awkward task Lord Chade has ever assigned to me. Daily I am grateful that you are nothing like her. Bee is, as you warned me, a strange little girl. I do not see any signs that your father neglects her. In fact, they seem remarkably close and (blotted area). I will watch, as I have promised you, and answer true what I think is (obscured by blotch). I could write so much more to you, my dear, but there is small space for this pigeon to carry my words. And in truth, you would already know much of what I would say.
Discarded pigeon message scroll
Shun’s constant whining to have things changed to suit her kept both my father and Riddle busy for those days. My promised lessons in riding did not materialize. By the time I had returned from my walk that morning, Riddle had driven Lady Shun to town in the two-wheeled cart so that she might see what sorts of fabric were available in the market and buy new blankets. It was small comfort to me that the cart jolted and bumped on the icy ruts in the road, and that I knew she would be disappointed in what she found. She had succeeded in snatching Riddle away and having him to herself. I found I was jealous of that, not on my own behalf, but for my sister. I knew that in some way Riddle belonged to Nettle, and I did not like to see Shun making free with his time. If anyone recalled that I had been promised riding lessons, no one mentioned it. And when Riddle and Shun returned, they were dispatched almost immediately on a much grander journey to buy so many things that my father sent two wagons with them. No one thought to ask me if I might like to go along or if there was anything I might want bought at a market town.